Round Beads in the Nose: A Full Circle Moment

It seems that I’ve passed on a genetic predisposition to shove beads in one’s nose. Don’t ask why. I can’t explain it.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those full circle moments as a parent. At bedtime, I tucked in my three-year-old son, and very plainly told him to stay put until morning. About ten minutes later, he crept out of his bedroom and into the hall.

“What are you doing?” I whispered in my accusing, angry voice.

He timidly whispered back, “I want you to get these out of my nose.” And in the darkened hallway, I saw his little nostrils flared wide with a colorful pony bead wedged in each nostril.

Exhibit A: A shiny round pony bead.  Perfect for making into necklaces, bracelets, and ideally sized for a preschooler's nose.

Exhibit A: A shiny round pony bead. Perfect for making into necklaces, bracelets, and ideally sized for a preschooler’s nose.

In my head I screamed, but on the outside I was all calm business. I placed my fingers high on the outside of his nose and made a swiping pass down, and the bead on the right side popped out. The bead on the left side remained. It was a toughie, but at least it was visible.

We went into the bathroom for more light, and with a little finagling, I hooked my fingernail onto the bead and pulled it out. Then I asked how many beads he put in there. “Two.” I arched his head back like a Pez dispenser to point his nostrils into the light to confirm his statement. It checked out. He was in the clear.

After that we had a little conversation. I played the responsible, concerned parent. I painted a very grim picture of the dangers of shoving beads in one’s nose. Such dangers included (but were not limited to) trips to the emergency room, large probes held by doctors, suffocation, and death.

I used my low, quiet, deadly serious voice. He listened with big blue eyes staring at me from behind his curly eye lashes. I believe the message sunk in, but time will tell.

And then I sent him back to bed, airways unobstructed.

All in all, I can’t say I’m surprised. This little boy’s eternal quest is to figure out how to make round pegs fit in square holes. He is his engineer father’s son, the little boy who rigs up three makeshift tow straps to pull all varieties of things behind his trike (including his sister on her ride-on car).

He’s forever creating contraptions. One of my favorites is a “fishing pole” he procured from a Lincoln log, a length of ribbon, a full roll of Scotch tape, and a bolt snap hook.

So, a few beads in the nose? Not so very surprising. He saw two cylindrical beads, and his sleepy builder’s mind created the connection that his nostrils looked roughly the same size. Apparently, the first bead went in with success. Having a second nostril available, he saw his project through to completion.

Exhibit B: One highly experimental three-year-old.  Excels in finding new and creative uses for ordinary objects.

Exhibit B: One highly experimental three-year-old. Excels in finding new and creative uses for ordinary objects.

Oh yes, I’m also not surprised because, well, I did the same thing as a preschooler. Except I ONLY put beads in one nostril.

And that little serious speech I gave about the dangers of beads in noses? Stolen straight from my mother.

In my head, however, we had an entirely different sort of conversation. That’s the place where the responsible parent gets to play out all of the less responsible reactions to predicaments like beads in the nose at bedtime.

“I know! You just see those colorful things and want to shove them in your nose?! I don’t know why either, but I get it. I did the exact same thing when I was your age! Ha ha ha! Oh wow, I was in big trouble. You’ll outgrow it soon. I did.”

All of those over-used parenting phrases also popped into my head, “Wait until you have kids,” “What goes around comes around,” “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” You get the picture.

Circle back about thirty years, and I clearly remember sitting on the pink carpet of my bedroom, playing with the mustard-colored Tupperware container full of beads. I believe I had the light off because I wasn’t supposed to have those beads in my room in the first place. It was during my crafting era of making everyone “beautiful” plastic bead necklaces strung on dental floss.

I sifted the beads through my fingers. And as I felt them, I just had the irresistible urge to put them in my nose. The first one I put in came out easily, but the next time (or two) I wasn’t as lucky. It was not my greatest preschool experiment.

Mom was not pleased one bit to find beads wedged in my nose. I heard a lecture about dangers including (but not limited to) trips to the emergency room, large probes held by doctors, suffocation, and death.

The lecture worked. I resisted poking things in my nose from then on. I do recall a time or two when I held a bead or a pea up to my nostril, um, just checking for size. But fearing the anger of my mom and an ER trip, my self-control won out.

So, there you have it. I was one of those kids that wanted to shove things in my nose. And I still turned into a fairly respectable adult. I never developed a snorting habit with strong substances or anything sinister like that. Nope, I just resisted the inexplicable urge, and then soon enough, the urge faded away. Hopefully the lecture does the trick for my three-year-old, too.

Someday when he gets a little older, big enough to fully appreciate the irony and humor of it all, I’ll tell him how I, too, once shoved beads in my nose.

You are just like your mom! Someday, you’ll probably fish beads out of your own child’s nose, too.

Then, give your child Grandma’s lecture.

Full circle.


Snowmobile Gas, Scraped Ceilings, and Pine Needles: What Christmas Memories are Made Of

I can’t remember the last time I went out and helped cut down a Christmas tree. By my estimation, it’s been about twenty years.

While that hardly seems possible, my mental tally confirms that all-too-big number. However, this past weekend I rectified that tree-cutting deficiency. We went out to Saratoga and hunted down a trophy worthy of mounting in the living room. It stands over eight feet tall, just shy of scraping the nine foot ceilings in our living room, and our children decorated it beautifully. Well, to be more accurate, they thoroughly decorated the bottom four feet with slightly smashed ornaments that they made last year, but I think it’s perfect.

That tree-cutting event brought back some of my very favorite Christmas tree hunting memories. One tree in particular stands out in my memory. The behemoth. The one that scraped the sparkly textured ceiling, causing Mom to scream and yell in horror. I was six years old at the time, and it was GRAND.

Kathy age six, circa 1984, in front of the behemoth tree on Christmas morning.

Kathy age six, circa 1984, in front of the behemoth tree on Christmas morning.

Snowmobile Gas
The tree came from the back of our farm. That year it was snowy, so we fired up our snowmobiles for the tree hunt. That alone made the tree hunting wonderful. Our snowmobiles, which we always referred to by their given names, the Panther and El Tigre, were the tree hunting vehicles. I rode in the Cat Cutter, hooked onto the back of one of the snowmobiles. The Cat Cutter was a magnificent 1970’s snowcoach that hooked on the back of a snowmobile, meant for hauling an extra kid or two. We would usually wedge in at least three of us. I knew back then that the Cat Cutter was the essence of cool. I loved hopping in and getting rides, and I still remember the tiger print fabric on the inside.

So we rode out in snowmobiles to the back of the farm. We parked in front of the towering evergreen trees. I remember struggling to plow my short legs through the deep snow to get closer to the trees. Then, like brothers and sisters are supposed to do, a good half dozen of my older siblings proceeded to argue and discuss which tree top would make the best Christmas tree. At six, I had no voting power, so I mostly stayed quiet.

Settling on a good tree, one of my brothers (either David or Mike) climbed up the giant evergreen while carrying the hand saw, and slowly lopped off the top. I remember watching the tree top wiggle and shake, and finally, seeing the awesome crash of the tree top falling to the ground. TIMBER! It was fabulous.

If I remember correctly, on this particular year, we misjudged the height of the tree top from our vantage point on the ground, and the first one that he lopped off was way too short. I recall some choice angry words over who was to blame for the short tree snafu. Somehow, while standing hot and sweaty in the cold snow, it didn’t sound appealing to my brother to climb another tree, perch in branches, and wield a saw to lop off another magical Christmas memory. Nonetheless, he climbed up another tree and sawed off another tree top.

It seems that we erred on the side of long on the second go round, but we didn’t fully know that until later.

Task accomplished, my brothers jerked the starter cords a few times to fire up the snowmobiles, filling the cold winter air with the sound of revving engines and the smell of snowmobile gas. I do love that smell. To me, the scent of snowmobile gas, like the scent of wood smoke, is the smell of a good time.

We piled back on the snowmobiles and I climbed into the Cat Cutter. Flashes of the ride back to the house forever etched themselves in my memory: cold, crisp air that burned in my nose when I sucked in, red cheeks, wiping my runny nose on my mittens, a fine spray of snow blowing into my face, ducking my head out of the wind, holding out my mitten-covered hands to catch the snow, and the smell of snowmobile gas and the sound of engines through it all.

Runny nose?  Cold?  Snow spray in the face?  As an adult it doesn’t sound all that appealing. As a kid, though, I was a little Minnesotan girl in winter heaven. I was six years old, out with my brothers and sisters on a Christmas tree mission, riding home on snowmobiles and dragging a tree after cutting it down and watching it fall. I knew it was one of the most glorious moments of my life, one of those moments so spectacular that I couldn’t believe it was real, and I didn’t want it to end.

Scraped Ceilings
That wonderful tree, like the Grinch’s heart, seemingly grew several sizes. We arrived home and after stuffing, tugging, and pushing, they crammed the tree through the front door, and then SCRAAAAAPE! A long scratch, forever commemorating that year’s tree, gouged into Mom’s sparkly textured ceiling. Mom’s ensuing yelling? Yep, I still remember that, too. As horrifying as wrecking Mom’s ceiling was, oh man, that tree was ever so grand.

They perched the tree under the peak of our vaulted ceiling, and it nearly touched the peak when upright, soaring over twice as tall as most of the people in my family at the time. It filled a gigantic area in our gigantic living room, and of course, it was all the more glorious to my six-year-old perspective.

My sister, Sues, took a Christmas morning picture of me in front of that tree. In the picture I’m sitting in blue rose pajamas. I remember not liking those pajamas that mom made for one of my older brothers, and I remember thinking that my hair was messy, so I didn’t want my picture taken. But now I look back at that, and I love it. In the background is an astonishing mound of Christmas presents. If we got something, it usually came to us at Christmas time. We didn’t get birthday presents, so that was the one gift time of the year. With a dozen siblings, most still living at home at the time, Christmas day was huge.

That year was also the year of The Cabbage Patch Kid baby. THE one, that I longingly looked at every time we went into the hardware store in Plainview.

On Christmas morning, I was the first one awake. I sifted through the wrapped boxes and pulled out what I thought was my Cabbage Patch. I set it aside on the couch, ready to be opened as soon as I had the green light go ahead when everyone else got out of bed. After patiently waiting through the Today Show, everyone finally came downstairs, and I finally got to open my doll. Like a six-year-old dreams, it was just the one that I’d wanted. I finally could hold it in my arms. I think it’s still floating around in the toy box at my mom’s house, and my six-year-old daughter now occasionally plays with it.

Of all my childhood Christmases, that is probably the Christmas I remember the best: At six, I was at the peak of believing in all the magic of Christmas. We rode out on snowmobiles to get a gigantic tree that forever scratched the ceiling, and Santa brought the very doll that I’d longingly wanted for months.

kathy tree 2012

Kathy, circa 2012, sawing a few lumberjack swipes at this year’s tree with her family in the background.

Pine Needles
With my own kids, I don’t know what memories will forever etch into their hearts. I don’t know yet what they’ll look back on and laughingly tell stories about when they’re grown up. I do know, though, that Christmas this year is special. It is our first Christmas in our new house, the house we are going to live in “forever”, and we have four young kids who believe in the magic of Santa and the wonder of Christmas. I think heading out and sawing down our tree is a good start on the holiday. Timber!

Lessons Learned from Gardening‏: Letting Kids Plant is (Mostly) Wonderful

I really need to get out more often.  Sometimes show tunes from Oklahoma pop into my head for no apparent reason, especially if I don’t get enough sleep at night.  Looking out at the end of the summer garden from our porch on a lovely fall day, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” popped into my head.  I resisted the urge to spin around grandly like Julie Andrews atop a mountain meadow (since that’s the wrong musical), but since nobody else was around, I started singing it, but then I had to fix the lyrics, since our corn really didn’t do much this year.

There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow, there’s a bright golden haze on the meadow.  The corn is as high as only my thigh, and the weeds look like they’re climbing clear up to the sky…oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a pretty strong feeling, sometimes things don’t go my way.

Anyway, the garden is on my mind today.  Anyone driving past from the road probably takes a gander and thinks, “Man, those folks should just mow down that weed patch,”  or maybe at best, “Look, I see a few sunflowers in that big pile of weeds.”

All in all, if ample opportunities for learning equate success, then I’d say our first garden “on the farm” is a success.  Perhaps the garden is not a success by traditional standards, but I’m all for learning and didn’t have delusions of weed-free grandeur, anyway.  Without further ado, here are my Lessons Learned from Gardening:

1.  Letting Kids Plant is Wonderful.  Planting days with kids playing in the freshly tilled black goodness rank among my favorite days this year.  I love letting kids feel ownership about our garden.  They planted in a fairly free-form manner, with creative rows and non-specific marking techniques, a very fun experience.  This leads me to number two…

2. Marking the Rows is Even Better.   The downfall of casually marked rows is that weeds overtake the whole darn garden by the time seedlings grow big enough to identify.  This isn’t any great epiphany I’ve revealed, but some things you just have to learn by experience.

3. String and Sticks: Cheap, Yet Priceless.    Mark my words! Next year, sticks and strings will mark the rows!  And if I forget this over the winter, please remind me so we can keep the weed population a little more in check.

4.  Sunflowers are Awesome.  Nothing gratifies kids and adults alike like planting a seed and seeing phenomenal growth.  Our sunflowers blew past the weeds, shot up during the July drought, and just give us a grand sense of awe everytime we stand near them.  It really is a little bit of magic to see something dwarf even the tall neighboring field corn.  I can’t wait to have sword fights with the gigantic dried stalks.  I know I can out-joust a five-year-old.

5.  Eggplants and Swiss Chard Thrive in Hot and Dry Weather.  We have boatloads of both in the garden.

6. We Don’t Really Like Eggplants and Swiss Chard.  At least, not in the quantities they proliferated in our dirt.

7. Mulch = Good.   It really works.  I spread several inches of straw around our cucumber and muskmelon plants, and the areas remained fairly weed-free all summer.  The sad irony: the cucumbers and muskmelon plants all died.  But hey, at least they weren’t weedy, right?

8. Bugs =  Bad.  We didn’t use any sort of chemical herbicide or pesticide on our garden, and apparently, that made it look like a bright, shining beacon to every insect in the county.  It’s hard being the organic island in the sea of treated corn fields.   Bugs saw our garden patch and thought we were saying, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  They huddled and breathed free all over our garden, and ate our lettuce, cabbage, an entire zucchini plant, and on and on…  We had a grasshopper infestation of biblical proportions, and being so well-fed in our garden, I’m sure they’ll return nice and strong next year, too.  Yay.

9.  Not Pickin’ a Bale o’ Cotton.  My husband found a packet of cotton seeds in the novelty seeds section in a hardware store in Montana.  We took them here to Minnesota, and I had grand visions of my children toiling under hot sun, learning the trade of picking cotton.  The image of Sally Field, crawling on hands and knees with bloody bandaged hands, harvesting the last puffs of her cotton crop in that movie Places in the Heart came to mind.  Or more likely, a home-grown cotton ball fight would’ve been a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Either way, cotton didn’t show up.  It probably didn’t help that this Minnesota farm girl had no clue about cotton seedling identification.  Never really weeding that part of the garden probably didn’t help, either.

10.  Amish Tomatoes Rock.  We bought our tomato plants from the Amish Auction, and those buggers produced like champions.  Before the plants flopped over from weight of tomatoes and kid trampling, some were as tall as me (5 feet 7 inches, if you’re curious).  My one-year-old daughter loves the deep burgundy-colored cherry tomatoes that grow on those plants, and frequently has tomato seeds stuck to her chin, her hair, and behind her ears.  Among several failures, those tomatoes are a shining success.  Hallelujah!

Our tomato-lover, chowing down with a cherry tomato in each hand.

11. Operation Bean Tent = Success.  Thankfully, our bean tent worked just as planned.  The custom-engineered maple pole frame survived every windstorm, and the beans climbed up and produced just as promised on the seed package (which is more than I can say for some other seeds).  Yep, those tree-trimming scrap branches and that $1 packet of bean seeds produced bucket loads of enjoyment this summer.   Our tomato-eating baby girl is also now a bean-picking machine.

Standing in front of the towering sunflowers, happy to discover more string beans.

12. Our Soil is Par Excellence.  One neighbor told us that the soil in our neck of the prairie tests as the most fertile anywhere, even better than the soil in Iowa, where people feel quite lofty about their soil quality.  This makes me puff up my chest a little bit, even though I have absolutely zero influence on the innate soil quality of the area, and it was pure luck to stumble upon such nice land.  Just the same, with my lackadaisical weeding practices, I fully believe in the quality of our soil.  We grew weeds more resplendent than any I have ever seen before.

Finally, a few garden notices…

AWOL: Potatoes, peas, and carrots.  If any of you know the whereabouts of these vegetables, please contact us.  Our potatoes went AWOL after a promising beginning, and the peas and carrots never really reported for duty.

RIP:  Cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, zucchini, watermelon, and muskmelon. (Or do you call it cantaloupe?  I never know what to call it.)  Whether it was the bugs or the over spray from the helicopter crop dusting the nearby corn field, either way, you died before your time.  You looked so promising, and so many unfulfilled dreams lay in your wake.  You are missed.  Thankfully, we can just resurrect you next year in our new-and-improved garden.  See you then.

When the TV Went on Vacation

Sometimes a TV should be seen and not heard. Or maybe not seen at all. Right now our TV is hiding out behind a tent, taking a little well-deserved vacation.

Roughing it in the living room for a night.

This all started a few nights ago. I came downstairs after putting the kids to bed, meaning to do the dishes, wash diapers, and fold laundry. I was tired, though, and I sat down for “five minutes” in front of the laptop. And an hour and a half later, I peeled my eyes away from the screen and went to bed. No dishes washed or laundry done. I was mad at myself for it and decided it was time for that business to stop.

When I’m tired, I sit down in front of the computer. I let the kids sit down in front of the TV. Meanwhile, the sun is shining outside on our limited summer vacation time, or the moon is up and everyone should be sleeping. Screen time interrupts all of that. The lazy, hazy days of summer fly by at a dizzying pace, and I want to absorb them all.

So, the next morning I told the kids the TV was going on vacation for a week. The laptop was, too. I braced myself for the “No, c’mon, Mom!!”. Surprisingly, it didn’t happen, because as much as they like watching PBS Kids, they felt even more excited knowing Mom wasn’t going to be in another world on the computer. We shut off the TV, put the laptop away in a drawer, and ate breakfast. That was it.

Four kids chopping up rhubarb for a yummy dessert. Even the baby gets to wield a knife.

And then we started living. We played kickball. We made strawberry rhubarb crunch together. We rode bikes around and around the driveway. We watched the chickens peck the ground. Literally.

Before this summer, I never spent any length of time around chickens. I discovered, though, that watching chickens industriously amble around on the hunt for bugs is strangely satisfying. I love when a chicken runs full speed in pursuit of a fluttering moth, or snags a big grasshopper and then scurries away to protect the treasure from other chickens. And who doesn’t appreciate a nasty earwig meeting its end? What good little chickens. Sitting in a comfy chair while watching chickens go about their quiet business provides the same soothing effect as watching a bonfire or a snowfall. Who knew chickens could be mesmerizing?

Turning off the TV also made ample time for creative, inventive play. On Sunday morning, in the lull between getting dressed and heading to church, I overheard the kids in the living room playing charades. Stomping around the room with arms chugging and plenty of sound effects I heard, “What am I?” “A train?” “Yeah, but what kind?” “Passenger?” “Freight train?” “YESSS!!! Ok! You’re turn!” And so, full engrossed, their game continued for another 15 minutes. I’m not sure where they even learned to play charades. Ironically, maybe they saw it on TV.

My ever-so-industrious kids also engaged in plenty of creative activities even when I was not even around. At some point, apparently someone hosted a dance party in the kitchen. On my loaf of bread. When I made toast one day, I pulled out a slice that looked a bit rumpled. I straightened it out a bit and popped it in the toaster. Once toasted, a very clear foot imprint revealed itself, complete with five little toes. A little foot-identification confirmed the foot stamp belonged to a certain very adorable baby girl. I’m not sure, however, who kindly put the slice of bread back in the bag after she stamped it.

Always return stomped bread into the bag, so nobody will ever know.

I bet someone could find all sorts of crafty applications for baby foot prints on slices of bread, but for right now, the toast is just sitting on a plate on top of our microwave. It’s just a little too cute to throw away. Perhaps I should varnish it into a Christmas ornament.

My three-year-old, not to be outdone by his baby sister, spent some TV-free time experimenting in fluid dynamics. His great discovery? A wide orange juice lid, installed horizontally, deep inside a drinking glass, creates a water tight seal and is nearly impossible to remove.

A fun experiment: Shove an orange juice lid in a glass while Mom’s not watching, and create a water tight seal.

Kitchen creations aside, a few days into our TV’s vacation, the quiet in the house became apparent to everyone. My five-year-old son remarked, “It’s been kind of quiet and nice. It’s just peaceful around here.” And it was.

Hanging around in the quiet on a cloudy, rainy night, my five-year-old asked if maybe he could go camping “back by the sheep fence in the trees.” I felt bad that we hadn’t done any camping this summer, not even in the yard. But I didn’t feel bad enough to head out to a cold, rainy night in a tent.

So I did what any parent would do, I told him yes. All he had to do was get the tent out of the attic, haul it outside, carry it through wet knee-high grass, and not get it in any sheep p…resents along the way. And then he needed to do the same with all of his blankets and his pillow.

Considering it for about two seconds, he said, “How about a tent in the living room?”

Now there’s an idea! I couldn’t deny that one. Filed away in my memory bank are many happy times building forts with my cousins for sleepovers in my grandma’s living room. As a veteran living room camper, I knew that the building of the tent and preparing beds would be far more exciting than the actual camping part. A tent, after all, is a tent: first it’s too hot, then it’s too cold. The one consistent is that it’s always uncomfortable. But I certainly would not deny my children the experience of all that adventurous living. No siree. We hooked together the poles, applied a little duct tape help as needed, and they had a fine camp out ready in our living room. All courtesy of the TV going on vacation.

That night, three kids excitedly headed to bed in a tent-filled living room. Giggles, excitement, a little nervousness, and an over-active three-year-old kept them all awake still at 10:30. Sometime around 2:00 AM, all that excitement and ensuing exhaustion led to a wet sleeping bag. Then around 3:00 AM, we had another wet pile of blankets. Who knew that less TV = more laundry? I swapped out wet for dry, tucked in the kids again, and they spent the rest of the night in camping bliss.

The next morning, triumphant in their camping experience, my daughter proudly deemed the living room tent sleepers now had the official title of Junior Campers. Every important feat deserves an equally important title.

Many thanks to our TV and laptop for taking much-needed breaks last week. Turns out we don’t need you two nearly as much as we thought.

That Sprinkler in Your Lawn Just Might be a Rattlesnake

 “Dear Dad, Thanks for chopping the head off the snake. I love you.” 

If snakes give you nightmares, better just stop reading right now. Never mind, you probably can’t help yourself.  It’s like unexpectedly coming across a gigantic bug. You can’t hardly stand to look at it, but you also can’t stand to not take a look, either.

First of all, many thanks to the little fox snake sitting on our basement steps recently as my daughter went downstairs to get some dog food. Without you, you darn snake, I might not have snakes on my mind.

In the last few years, I’ve had entirely more contact with snakes that I’ve ever wanted. Growing up, my childhood was blissfully snake free. I knew we had rattlesnakes in SE Minnesota, but I only ever saw them behind aquarium glass at Whitewater State Park. And even with the glass between us, I still wondered if maybe the snake could somehow get out. I can recall only two other snake sightings in my entire childhood out in the country, and those snakes weren’t rattlers.

Rattlesnake Adventures

Broadview Montana rattlesnakes

Mosdal Road in Broadview, Montana. Population: two grandparents, and a few pesky rattlesnakes.

Where we now live Minnesota, there was a bounty paid for rattlesnakes many years ago.  The numbers declined sharply and now the timber rattlesnake is listed as a threatened species. In Montana, by contrast, the western rattlesnake is alive, well, and quite bountiful.

My first run-in with a rattlesnake happened the summer of 2003, shortly after we moved to our trailer house on my husband’s grandparents’ farm in Broadview, Montana. I sat out on the front steps one evening, just after our five nieces and nephews left our house after a visit to play in our yard. As I sat there on that quiet night, I heard the sprinkler running by our house… but hey, wait a minute…we don’t have a sprinkler.

There, less than 10 feet from the front steps, right where some of my favorite kiddos played moments before, was a rattlesnake busily shaking its tail. I don’t remember the specific method my husband, Jarred, used to get rid of it, but I believe it involved a shovel, some chopping motion, and then a garbage can.

Rattlesnakes around the Broadview, MT area are a common sight. While I was teaching at the school there, the elementary teachers one day nervously came in from the playground reporting that they’d found a baby rattler on the playground. Locals there say the babies are particularly dangerous because when they bite, they don’t hold back, and will use their full supply of venom when they strike. I believe our janitor at school had a small, slithery extra duty that day in addition to sweeping the floors.

As for me, I had several more encounters with rattlesnakes while we lived in our trailer. Every summer we’d find at least one rattlesnake, and some years three or four, right by our house. Standard practice is grabbing the nearest hoe or shovel: they are not a threatened species in MT. My brother-in-law, a Montana native, wisely advises, “How do you know when a rattlesnake is dead? When the shovel breaks.” I can’t say I personally ever had the guts to kill a rattlesnake with a shovel, but I did squish one with a strategically placed Buick tire once or twice.

When we moved out of our trailer house in the country, I excitedly hoped we’d see far less snakes living in our new little log house on the edge of town. As “luck” would have it, that didn’t exactly happen. Playing outside one day on the side of the house, we found a rattlesnake just off our front steps. Just as we saw it, my then three-year-old daughter came around the house.

Nothing made my heart sink more than seeing my daughter no more than 15 feet from me, with a rattlesnake in the middle between us. Fearing that my little girl would get scared of the snake and instinctively run toward me, and inadvertently run closer to the snake, I screamed her name and yelled at her to stop. It’s a tough balance to convey urgency, but not panic, when every fiber in me is terrified because my daughter is within striking distance of a venomous snake.

Luckily, she did as she was told, and her dad came to the rescue and killed the rattlesnake. He then dumped the snake in the garbage can. It continued to involuntarily coil and twist its body around for long enough afterward that I had to go inside because I couldn’t stand hearing the sound of a dead snake’s body twisting around in the garbage. The thought still makes me cringe.

Rattlesnake snakes often travel in breeding pairs, and just a few days after the near run-in with our daughter, we found another rattler by the back steps. Jarred added it to our collection in the garbage can. We just really didn’t have any room for that kind of wildlife in our yard with two toddlers out and about.

Rattlesnake encounter

The side of our house, where kids, the dog, and a rattlesnake hung out.

Just this spring while unpacking, I came across a Father’s Day card from that year, a card I’d completely forgotten about. On the card was a special message to Dad that I transcribed for our daughter, “Dear Dad, Thanks for chopping the head off the snake. I love you.

Now that’s a card that not every dad gets on his special day from his little girl.

I’d like to say that this is the extent of my snake tales to tell, unfortunately, it is not. While snakes completely freak me out, it is sort of therapeutic writing snake tales, much like describing a bad dream to someone makes the dream not so scary. I actually don’t have room in this week’s column to tell my um, “favorite” snake tale. That story will have to wait until another time, which probably makes you either say “Ooooh!” or “Eeeeew!” depending on your feelings about animals with no legs. I’ll give you a teaser line though: Bull snakes can climb walls!

Which brings me back to the present, when my now six-year-old girl discovered a little coiled snake sitting on the steps as she came back up from the basement. An internet search led me to the “Snakes and Lizards of Minnesota” pamphlet available online from the Department of Natural Resources. There I learned by looking at photos, and reading utterly helpful but not terribly comforting information about snakes, that our home visitor was likely the Western Fox Snake. Mystery solved.

Unfortunately, I kept reading and found this entirely unsettling tidbit, “This snake is frequently encountered in people’s homes, especially homes with stone foundations.” Care to venture a guess on what our foundation is made of? I really do not enjoy snakes, and I would prefer ignorance on the issue, thinking that this snake just made a horrible mistake, not a preferential habitat selection at our house.

Jarred scooped up the little guy in a plastic garbage bag and he relocated it behind his shop. It obviously wasn’t a rattler, and if it wants to catch some mice, we aren’t going to get in its way. We aren’t just indiscriminate snake killers, for the record.

Just the same, it is a snake, and apparently the kind that likes houses. Sometimes I hate the internet and the information it so easily provides. I just didn’t want to know that.

The Honeymoon is Over When a Packrat Eats Your Floor

Pack rats look like hamsters’ big adorable cousins, but they wreak havoc on a trailer house. (Image from

The following tale is a western adventure involving a cat, a couple of pack rats, my favorite kitchen utensils, and ends with a crescent wrench. This is a true story. I will not tell you, however, that none of the animals were harmed in the creation of this tale.

Everyone with a little bit of cowboy in them dreams of living on the wide open plains of Montana. Wild, windswept prairie, endless views, buttes rising up in the distance, antelope grazing in your backyard, and empty land…we actually lived that dream. In 2003, my husband took over his grandparent’s 30-year-old scale and feed cart business, and we moved into our first owned home: a single wide trailer set on top of a wide open rise on his grandparent’s land in Broadview, Montana.

We also lived in reality, where drought and well pump problems meant no running water for the first four weeks. Rattlesnakes, mice, and pack rats were our first “pets.” Pack rats are Montana varmints about the size of a big pocket gopher, but unlike gophers, pack rats enjoy entering homes. We quickly enlisted a stray cat as the family exterminator. Pack rats are formidable enough, though, that our cat was afraid of a dead pack rat on her first encounter, until she ate it.

Our cat had a late night roaming habit. In the evening before we went to bed, she went outside and prowled the land. And being a clever kitty, she learned how to get herself let in as she pleased in the morning. Our bedroom was in the back of the trailer, with our bed was against the back wall just below a window.

On the outside of the house, just below that window was a decomposing particle board shelf, installed to hold an air conditioner that we did not own. Our cat discovered, though, that by straining to the limits of her vertical jumping abilities, and after several attempts, she could snag the shelf with a claw or two, slide down and create a raucous, repeat the scenario a few times, and eventually perch on top of the shelf where she would scratch at the window until she got let in.

Every morning just before dawn, her scritchity scratching woke us up, and we squeezed the two window tabs, pushed up the window and the cat crawled in, walked across our bed, and then hopped to the floor. After this became a normal morning ritual, I could elbow my husband, we’d each push a tab and let the cat saunter in and we could be back sleeping before our heads hit the pillow and our kitty’s feet landed on the floor in our room.

One morning, however, after conducting our usual scratch-open-sleep routine, our sleep got interrupted by an unfamiliar crunching sound. After it became too persistent to ignore, I climbed over my husband to see our cat with her head tilted in concentration and her jaw opening wide to gnaw on a pack rat. On the floor, in our bedroom.

As disturbing as it was to see our cat eating a pack rat on our new white berber carpet, it was even more disturbing to realize that she entered through the window with said treasure, and then dragged that dead pack rat past our heads on our pillows, and across our fluffy down comforter before taking her little delicacy to the soft, clean carpet to savor and enjoy.

Reason and logic would suggest that a person, and most definitely two people, would notice a large pack rat in the mouth of a cat sitting on a window ledge at face level directly in front of them.

Sometimes, however, we defy both reason and logic. We had no clue that a dead varmint entered our premises until we heard crunching.

I don’t know what the honorable or dignified solution is when you find yourself in the awkward position of hearing your cat enjoying a pack rat on your carpet, but we opted for no intervention. Neither one of us wanted to pick up a partially consumed pack rat and dispose of it properly. (What is the proper disposal method for a pack rat these days? Are they hazardous waste? Can they be recycled?)

Instead, we just let the cat clean up the mess herself. In the quiet of the early morning, we laid there in bed listening for an extraordinarily long time to the grinding crunch of pack rat bones in our cat’s mouth. Finally, the crunching stopped and she commenced licking her fur, and we snoozed for a few more minutes, assuming it was all over.

We discovered, however, that not all parts of a pack rat are edible. After laying in a bed defiled by a dead pack rat, a shower seemed like the proper thing. Jarred climbed out of bed to head to the shower, and his foot came in contact with not soft carpet, but a wet, squishy thing. I don’t know what the dark green organ is on a pack rat, but I do know that it definitely does not taste good. The cat was kind enough to leave it in the exact foot path of those first groggy steps out of bed.

The golf ball-sized green organ thingy smashed on a foot really just leaves a dirty feeling that no soap can wash away.

No need to worry, though, about the loss of life, pack rats are among the more prolific of God’s creatures, and they continued to grace our lives that first year in our trailer. On the domestic front, you might enjoy knowing that while Pampered Chef spatulas are heat-resistant, they are pack rat-irresistable. As newlyweds, many of our possessions were second hand cast-offs acquired during our college years. That made my fancy, expensive spatula a particular treasure. Discovering deep gnaw marks defacing the smooth tip made my blood boil.

The kitchen utensil carnage continued for several days. Each morning I pulled open the drawer to discover wooden spoons and more spatulas falling victim to the gnawing ways of some blasted pack rat. At one point he chewed a hole all the way up through the subfloor and living room carpet, a hole large enough to plug with a tennis ball. This is true.

If that wasn’t bad enough, in the evenings, the varmint made enough packrat racket in our bathroom that it sounded like someone was doing a bathroom remodel under our tub. Every night we heard scraping of wood that could be heard all the way down the hallway in our living room, with the tv on at normal volume.

I started envisioning a little pack rat with a construction hat and a tool belt conducting his own little This Old Trailer House episode right under our tub. In a pack rat New England accent he’d say, “Now, we need to remove a little excess wood from this arear ovah heah.” (gnaw, gnaw, gnaw…)

Finally, though, that pack rat became the Saturday Night Main Event. One night in bed, we heard the gnawing again in the bathroom. Jarred sprang into action, and removed the access panel to the tub. He managed to get the varmint cornered between the tub, wall, and an Igloo cooler (as per standard pest control protocol).

What happened next is best described as vigilante justice. In Saudi Arabia, the punishment for theft is losing one’s hand. In Montana, the punishment for consumption of Pampered Chef spatulas, my wooden spoons, and our house studs and subfloor is, well…you get the picture. A large crescent wrench is in fact all one needs to control a pest infestation. A few thuds and a triumphant yell later, we drifted off to sleep under the quiet of our starry prairie skies. And of course, we lived happily ever after.

 © 2012

Silica Gel Beads and Peace that Surpasses all Understanding

Written February 20, 2012

My husband left us this week. He took all of our stuff, even our dog. Ultimately, we both agreed it was for the best. After all, we are in the process of moving, and it really was time to get some things out of the house here in Montana. So, my husband and his friend hauled two trailers full of household things and shop tools to Minnesota. He’s coming back home to Montana in a few days, and then we’ll wrap up everything here and all move to Minnesota together for good in the next few weeks. Between sick kids (again), packing, and the chaos of too many projects going on at once, life is at the same time a crazy blur and amazingly peaceful.

Somehow, even with all of these helpers, packing up the house took a long time


While we escaped most of the winter with hardly a sniffle for our kids, February makes up for it with one round of sickness after another. After our little boy’s hernia surgery and a round of stomach flu for four kids, I didn’t really think anything of it when runny noses made an appearance at our house earlier in the week. Turns out, though, that the runny noses turned into fever, coughing, and several days of feeling wiped out and not sleeping well at night for each of our kids. Two nights this week I tallied getting up ten times in the night for achy little people crying or wandering into our room, needing comforting. At one slightly irrational point in the middle of one of those nights, I remember wishing our kids just had the stomach flu again, since it really just lasted about seven rough hours. This latest bug dragged on for days, a long, slow, fussy grind.


In between sick kids and moving are the little details, things that I would probably forget about if it wasn’t for the fact that I am writing about this for the newspaper. Little details, like needing to Google “poison control silica packet” one day. Turns out that once again, my very industrious two-year-old fully utilized that golden seven minutes while I put his baby sister down for a nap. Somehow, he found the box that held the guitar for Guitar Hero. If you asked me to show you where we keep that box, prior to a few days ago, I would have told you we didn’t even have that box. Inside the box, he discovered a delicious gold mine, a few of those packets of silica gel. Yes, the ones always labeled “DO NOT EAT” and “THROW AWAY.”


When I returned downstairs, I found him busily cranking the Whirly Pop popcorn maker. The Whirly Pop is a covered pan with a hand crank attached to the lid to stir popcorn while cooking it on the stove. It’s marginally useful for popcorn, but it is fabulously noisy when cranked by a busy two-year-old. Since he uncovered it in the “donate” bag a few weeks ago, he has stirred up all sorts of noisy creations that kept him quite busy. Checking to see what he stirred up this time, I saw wet toilet paper, foam letters, and I had a sinking feeling when I saw mysterious little clear beads and a tell-tale silica gel packet laying next to him.


Asking him if he ate any of the beads that looked very candy-like, he simply said, “Yes I did.” Gulp. So, after a quick internet search, life went back to normal. By cross-referencing several websites, I learned that while the silica gel packets are labeled to look dangerous, they are essentially harmless. Humans would need to consume extremely large quantities to have the desiccating abilities be a problem. Silica gel is basically a man-made sand.


In addition to the new learning opportunity about ingesting foreign substances, this week of moving and sick kids includes a few other highlights. For our kids, the highlight of moving is kicking kitchen garbage bags full of clothes and blankets down the stairs from the second floor, sending the bags careening end over end until they crashed to the floor in the living room. Another highlight this week is our extended family. On the Montana end, my sister-in-law came to help pack with her five kids, driving several hours from their home in Miles City to get to our house after I made a phone call plea for help. And in Minnesota, when my husband arrived after driving 1,000 miles with a packed-to-the-rafters trailer, my family descended upon it, and unloaded everything into our new house in the space of an industrious afternoon.


In the midst of our moving melee, another event put all of the stress in perspective. Last Thursday, a great man in our community here passed away. Craig Schwehr, just 39, died after a long fight with multiple illnesses stemming from lymphoma and transplant complications. If I could pick someone that I would want to live a long life, Craig would have been at the top of the list. I first met Craig when I taught Spanish for two years in the same school where his wife was also a teacher. Craig was kind, quick to smile, generously giving, actively involved in our tight-knit community, and was well-liked in the town of Melstone where he taught high school math. He cooked delicious food, and on several occasions baked banana bread and sent it to school with his wife, Kelli, to share with all the other teachers. Most importantly, he was a devoted, loving dad who fostered and encouraged the achievements of his son and daughter who excel in both academics and athletics.


Over and over, our friend, Craig, and his family were in my thoughts this week. He was just a few years older than we are, not even 40, but his family’s time with him is done. As I thought about the Schwehr family, the phrase “peace that surpasses all understanding” popped into my head. I couldn’t remember what it came from, so I looked it up on the internet and realized it was from this Bible passage: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).


So this week, as I felt anxious, I said a few prayers and reminded myself of how thankful I am for the situation we are in. Despite too much to take care of, moving stress, and not enough sleep, we are so blessed. We are moving to the house in the country that we’ve always wanted. I probably have another fifty years to spend with my husband, judging by our grandparents’ longevity. Every day, we get to wake up and hug our kids, and at night I have my husband next to me. Life is turned upside down, and at the same time, this is a peaceful, happy time. We are living the life we want to have, overflowing with wonderful family, and I am so very grateful for all of it.

Thank you to Kelli, Craig’s wife, for letting me share this.

© 2012

Backseat Rice Patties and Rotting Celery: Fond Gardening Mishaps

To be honest, we don’t actually know if it was the rice that was growing or if the rice acted as growing medium for some mushrooms to sprout. Just the same, the moral of the story is this: use the back seat more often.

Written February 13, 2012.

The wind gusted a wild, wintery 37 mph while I ran today here in Montana. That’s strong enough to give you a “brain freeze” headache through a stocking cap. More impressively, on the best gusts of wind, my spit sailed ten feet through the air before landing. As I ran on the hard frozen gravel and dodged ice patches, my mind was off in Minnesota digging in warm dirt and planting a garden and flowers. I blame the Gurney’s Seed Catalog.

When the catalog appears in the mail box, I greet its arrival with the same excitement I had for the JC Penney Christmas Catalog as a kid. When I was five, I pored over the toy section in the catalog, absorbing the images and studying the options. I gleefully circled each and every wonderful thing that I wanted. Even then as a young kid, I fully realized that I would not get all of the circled toys, but just the same, the act of circling the toys made them mine. Circling things was deeply satisfying. And so, a few years ago, when my first seed catalog arrived, I restarted my routine of circling everything I wanted. I did it surreptitiously at first, not really wanting my husband, Jarred, to notice that my inner five year-old was wielding a Sharpie, but then I cast that aside and began circling beautiful growing things with wanton abandon. Daisies! Hydrangeas! Bleeding Hearts! Raspberry bushes! These. Will. Be. Mine. Some day, that is.

Finally, that some day is arriving. This coming summer in Minnesota will usher in a new era of planting fervor at our home. We planted gardens in past summers, but I don’t define them as “real” gardens by my midwest farm girl standards because they either were not on our own land or because the gardens just barely grew to a third of their promised height. As I scheme and dream about the magical things I will grow at our new place this coming summer, I’m taking a little time to reflect back on wonderfully fond memories of gardening mishaps of yesteryear.

In our romantic first summer of marriage, our gardening was simple. Simple, that is, because we didn’t plant a thing. We lived in Poulsbo, WA, a gardener’s paradise, but our yard interests leaned more toward sitting around our bonfire pit until the wee hours of the morning with our friends than pulling weeds out of parsnips. Nonetheless, we did unintentionally grow things that summer.

Rice Patties

In the spring, we started with rice. We got married on the pier a few miles from our house, and our family happily chucked handfuls of rice at us as we got into Jarred’s ’67 Mustang to ride off into the sunset. As luck would have it, sometimes classic cars are not wholly water tight. In dryland Montana, that was never an issue, but in water-logged Western Washington, the rain sometimes seeped in a little when the wind was just right. A few months after getting married, we glanced at the floor mats in the back and noticed that the grains of rice that landed there on our wedding day had indeed started to grow. To be honest, we don’t actually know if it was the rice that was growing or if the rice acted as growing medium for some mushrooms to sprout. Just the same, the moral of the story is this: use the back seat more often.

Rotting Celery

That same summer, cleaning out our fridge one day, I found a few long-forgotten stalks of celery lurking in the back. I took the wilted sad things and, standing on the deck, practiced my spear-throwing technique and launched them toward the woods at the back of our house. Natural composting, if you will. To our complete amazement, when we wandered back to the long-forgotten celery a month or two later, we discovered the celery we left for dead actually put down roots and sprouted new celery. We never checked it again, but the way things grow in Washington, that celery might still be alive today.

Grow celery in 3 easy steps: 1. Abandon celery stalks in fridge until disgusting. 2. Hurl celery into woods to die. 3. Wander by months later and harvest the new crop.

Packrats and Drought

After all of that rain, living in a place where we could harvest a bountiful crop of ‘shrooms right off our roof if we had been interested, a year later we settled in the high plains desert of Broadview, Montana. The annual rainfall in Broadview is just 14 inches (for comparison, Rochester, MN, has an annual rainfall of 30 inches). We settled in Broadview, MT during the peak of a long drought, with precipitation four inches below normal in an already arid land.

Overly optimistic, I planted a little garden under the “shelter” of our trailer house hitch. I watered the garden like crazy, and rabbits and pack rats devoured the little that grew (pack rats are gopher-like varmints that love to chew up your newlywed rubber spatulas when they sneak in at night…but that’s another article). The wind eventually shredded the remainder of the garden that the sun didn’t bake away. My mammoth sunflowers that promised 10-12 foot stalks on the package didn’t even grow waist high. Living is tough with little topsoil in full sun, high wind, prolonged 100 degree temps, and no rain.

Not so Beefy Beefsteaks

A few years and a few kids later, I took on a more modest attempt at Broadview, Montana gardening. If the topsoil’s a bit miserable, a container garden seemed like the answer. I dumped some Miracle Grow potting soil in a terra cotta pot, and lovingly planted a beefsteak tomato plant, dreaming of the softball-sized juicy deliciousness to come. I watered the plant religiously, but in the town of Broadview you can’t just use tap water because the naturally-occurring high level of salts dries out and eventually kills plants. Yep, you can kill plants with kindness here, if the kindness is tap water. So, I watered my tomatoes using our drinking water that comes in those big, blue 5-gallon water cooler jugs. At the end of the summer, I harvested a disheartening six cherry-sized “beefsteak” tomatoes. After working so hard to grow them, the tomatoes seemed too special to just gobble up, so I kept them on the counter like a museum exhibit. The water investment alone was about $30, for six tiny tomatoes that slowly shriveled up and then eventually got thrown away. A tomato travesty.

This year, though, things will be different. I will plant my garden in the land of milk and honey, in the black dirt and plentiful rain of SE MN. And of course, I will plant it in the style I learned growing up: Plant with zeal and tend to it closely all the way through June. Then, interest will wane as the humidity increases, and by August, the garden will be left to it’s own devices. In September, I will dig through waist high weeds and with amazement find pails of tomatoes and cucumbers that overflow cake pans. And it will be grand. See you next week.

© 2012

A Train Wreck of a Week: Surgery, Stomach Flu and Super Bowl

Written February 6, 2012

Grandma Grace, my husband’s 86-year-old grandma, has been known most of her life as a quick-witted woman who usually had a joke or funny story fitting most any occasion. One of her favorite jokes centers around a harried mom of little kids. In the joke, when the husband returns home after a day at work, she tells him in exasperation with kids at her heels, “I have had a hell of a D-A-Y.” That punchline popped into my head a few days ago, but I think more appropriately for me is, “I have had a hell of a W-E-E-K.”

First and foremost, our two-year-old that had surgery last Sunday is doing great. He had an incarcerated hernia, which means that part of his lower intestine (bowels) pushed out of the hernia opening, getting strangulated. Because he is young and otherwise healthy, the surgeon made the judgment call to not remove that part of his intestines, guessing they would recover from their deep purple oxygen-deprived state. We stayed in the hospital two nights so he could be monitored for his recovery progress. If he didn’t show improvement, our little guy would have needed a second surgery to remove the damaged bowel. Luckily, that did not happen.

Three days after hernia surgery, our two-year-old can do headstands.

On Monday, after a night of no sleep with a boy post-op and a baby girl not sleeping well in a hospital crib, I asked my husband to take our baby girl home for the day so I could be with our two-year-old without the demands of a baby at the same time. Jarred was still too sick from stomach flu to want to drive 30 miles home and then care for a baby, so they instead went to his aunt’s house, just three blocks from the hospital. Jarred rested while our baby enjoyed the affection of her great aunt, and they both returned to the hospital for Monday night.

I spent most of Monday right next to our two-year-old, holding him, talking to him, and snoozing next to him in between a steady stream of hospital staff poking, prodding, and measuring any number of things, making vitals checks, and fixing the constantly beeping IV machine. Hospitals are not exactly a place of rest.

By Tuesday morning, our little guy was well on the road of recovery. Instead of laying still in the hospital bed, he perked up enough to make a full-time job out of running the bed control buttons, turning his bed into a carnival ride. On the pediatric floor they also have a little ride-on Power Wheels Humvee, and he happily drove that around the hallways, crashing into the rolling computer stations and slamming into doorways. Shortly after lunch, the doctor finally cleared him to go home. Two days in the hospital plus another spent in the ER felt like an eternity to the four of us. Returning home, seeing our two older kids again, and hanging out in a big pile of six on the couch watching the movie THOR together was a great end to a long few days.

I wish I could say that was the end of the medical shenanigans for the week, but just a day later, the next round began. The stomach flu that knocked out Jarred moved on to me. Jarred’s mom saved the day on Wednesday night when she came over and fed our four hungry kids supper as I made trips back and forth from the couch to the bathroom, where I heaved up everything from the depth of my soul.

Details of it all run together, but I know that I was sick enough to not really notice what the kids were doing for a solid day. While I slept, Jarred worked from home, doing load-bearing engineering analysis for a bulk grain storage system in between changing diapers and feeding kids. As one might expect, engineering and childcare are a challenging combination.

By Thursday night, I began to have that peaceful, easy feeling of finally beating the worst of the flu and coming out on the other side. I cooked supper for the first time in several days, and we all sat down together, everyone happy to have Mom back in mommy mode again. Just as the meal ended, though, I heard a gurgling sound. Looking over at our baby girl, I saw all of her chicken and noodles coming right back out of her mouth again. The stomach flu struck again. Halfway through another busy night and several pajamas and blanket washings later, she made it through the worst of the flu. By 4 AM on Friday, she nursed again and thankfully kept it all down.

Friday night rolled around, and Jarred returned home from an afternoon on site working on the bulk storage system with a big bottle of Chardonnay. Yes, it definitely had been that kind of week. We got the kids to bed, and settled down to a happy night of a few glasses of wine and a little This Old House. As we kicked back, we cracked ourselves up with our witty New England accents and our highly entertaining suggestions for the mystery tool segment they always have on that show.

Ah, we were blissfully ignorant of the Saturday night to come. All of our kids got their customary Saturday night baths, and squirreled away in their beds, all seemed well. Around midnight, though, our two-year-old, just six days after hernia surgery, came down with the stomach flu. I found him crying in his bed, telling me he “bahfed all ovey”. And he did. Clean jammies, sheets, a plastic bucket, and a few hugs later, he settled back down. Three more rounds for him ensued.

Around 4 AM Sunday, we heard the tell-tale coughing sound again, but this time it was his four-year- old brother. I went into the boys’ bedroom to find our four-year-old apologetically saying he just puked a little on his blankets and pajamas (little being understatement). And at the same time, our 2-year-old proudly announced that he just threw up in his plastic container. Yes, synchronized puking. Somehow, I don’t think that will become an Olympic event, but I know that I could use a medal. I tallied nine episodes through the night and into the early morning. We had intentions of going to church and maybe giving a few prayers of thanksgiving for a successful hernia surgery, but instead we spared everyone from our lovely germs and sat on the couch in a daze from the constant clean-up of the night before.

In the midst of this train wreck of a week, I have so much to be thankful for. Jarred’s sister, pregnant with their fourth child, without hesitation took our two oldest kids for two nights. His mom arranged for a local girl to clean our house while we were at the hospital, so we came home to an amazing gift of clean dishes and no kid clutter on the living room floor. And off at our new house in Minnesota, a flock of about eight of my family spent their weekend cleaning and painting.

By Super Bowl kickoff, the sickness was over. We spent time at Jarred’s parents’ house and rotated to our friends’ house just across the street, where we hung out with a dozen couples as 20 kids distributed bits of Cheetos across every room of the house. I got to catch up on the local gossip and have a little girl time, and definitely had a chance to take in a little of the best medicine. (Laughter, of course.) Hopefully, the next week will bring less adventure in health issues and a little more normalcy to life at our house. That is, if packing up everything and planning to uproot everyone’s lives in a few weeks is “normal.” Stay tuned folks, the adventure is just beginning.

© 2012

Burning Shrapnel and Fourth of July Strawberry Pie

Last year I was truly touched by the Fourth of July fireworks display. Literally. Bits of burning plastic and cardboard shrapnel rained down on my mosquito repellant-covered arms and fine black powder floated into my eyes.

In Montana, massive fireworks are completely legal and accessible to the average citizen. My husband, who is, of course, above average, procured a Montana wholesale fireworks dealer license. He brought home a package containing a full arsenal of the biggest shells available. You can imagine the kind. It’s the package of fireworks the size of a five-year-old, but twice as wide. It’s the one that makes guys involuntarily gather ’round in a driveway, admire, and reverently utter, “Whoa.”

The fireworks display that this massive package produced (plus one more 500 gram maximum-legal-load for good measure) was equivalent to the fireworks display shown in St. Charles each year. So right there, in our friends’ yard in little old Broadview, Montana, we had a professional quality display. Well, professional, except for the part where we sat in the driveway, and they lit off the massive explosions directly over us from the side yard.

My husband, Jarred, was the ring leader of pyrotechnics and bordering on euphoria at the end of the night. With a trigger-ignited MAPP gas torch in his hand, happy as a little boy with a firecracker, he lined up and fired off explosives in rapid succession in the all-too-near side yard of our friends’ house. Welding and its sparks are just in a day’s work for my husband, so sparks and ashes flying all around him on the 4th felt both festive and rather ordinary.

As for me, I can’t say I enjoyed fireworks last year. Somehow, it just isn’t as fun when you fear for the safety of yourself and your children. When I see movies at the theater, I hate being in the front row. It’s just too close. Multiply that feeling by 100 when the closeness is explosive devices mass-produced in China.

The phrase “so close you can touch it” should never apply to pyrotechnics.

About 20 little kids scurried around during the party, and a long line of them gathered in little camping chairs to watch the fireworks. By the end of the night, tired of sparks flying their way, the kids began taking cover with a baby blanket every time a shell was fired off.

The next day, my friend threw the baby blanket away because it had too many burn holes in it.

Yes, last year, everyone had plenty of hands-on learning with fireworks. The “rockets red glare” and “bombs bursting in air” that night felt a lot like a war time lesson in “duck and cover.” The “oohs” and “ahs” usually came from “Oooh! Watch out!” and “Ah! One landed on me.”

I’m excited, though, to see fireworks this year. I’m even more excited to not feel them landing on me.

This year, we will head to St. Charles for fireworks and take our place on the best spot in the grass, the very same spot that’s been a tradition in my family for some 50 years now. If I told you the exact spot, then you’d all want to sit there. And you just can’t. It’s ours.

While it may look like open grass, free for public use, I assure you that 200 square feet is permanently reserved. The city of St. Charles may beg to differ, but I don’t care. Land of the free, except for that spot of grass.

Keep all of your fingers intact on the Fourth so you can fully enjoy this red, white, and blue pie.

I do love America, land of the free, home of the brave. I also love pie. In honor of America’s birthday, then, I now present to you my very favorite pie. If it wasn’t for the guilt and shame involved, I could easily consume an entire pie by myself. That is why this recipe makes two: one for you, one for your family.

This delicious recipe came from my mom, something she cut out of a newspaper, probably this very one, years ago. The whipped cream and blueberries, however, are my very own Independence Day touch.

May I substitute Cool Whip, you ask? Ick, and NO. June is Dairy Month. Support our Minnesotan dairy farmers and eat that delicious product that came from cows. And please do not EVER call that abomination in the blue tub “whipped cream.” That stuff is not cream, it’s corn syrup and oil, folks.

Anyway… If making whipped cream sounds terrifying, you can use Redi Whip, which is real cream in a can. If you completely run out of time to make this pie, just squirt Redi Whip directly into your guests’ mouths. Delicious and fun.

So, for some fabulously festive fourth fare, make this here strawberry pie. Your tummy and your friends will thank you.

4th of July Strawberry Pie
Red, white, blue, and delicious!

1 ½ lbs. fresh strawberries
2 c. flour
¾ c. butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
dash salt
1 ½ c. sugar
1 ½ c. water
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 pkg. (3 oz. size) strawberry Jello
3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
red food coloring (optional)
whipped cream
1. Wash and slice strawberries, set aside.

2. Prepare crust: Cut together flour, ¾ c. butter, 2 T. sugar, and salt. Press into two pie pans or one 9 x 13 cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 min. Let cool.

3. Prepare glaze: In saucepan, mix 1 ½ c. sugar, water, and cornstarch. Simmer until thick and clear, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add jello, butter, and vanilla. Add food coloring as desired. Stir until glaze is well mixed and cooler.

4. Assemble pie: Divide strawberries into cooled pie crusts, arranging as desired. Pour glaze over berries. Refrigerate until cool. Works well as a make-ahead dessert.

5. Just before serving, top with a very large dollop of whipped cream and a generous handful of blueberries. (If you need help with making whipped cream, Google it or call your mother.)

Now, eat some pie, watch some fireworks, and let freedom ring! Happy Independence Day!

© 2012

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